Semiconductor production depends on many different raw materials, for different stages of the process. In normal times, that’s just fine, but right now the global problems with energy supply are causing some serious issues.
Most significantly, the power shortage in China is affecting the supply of multiple materials which are used frequently in semiconductors, such as raw tungsten, silicon, and phosphorus. This has led to up to 300% increases in raw material costs.
In one example, thirty magnesium smelting plants in Shanxi China were ordered by the government to shut down until the end of this year, to conserve power. This resulted in a spike of over 100% in the price of magnesium overnight. While magnesium is used sparingly in most semiconductors, it's still necessary – and China provides 90% of the world’s supplies.
It’s not just China – other countries are also having huge problems with power shortages, meaning China can’t just import more coal. For example, in India, a series of unconnected issues has reduced the availability of coal, leading to skyrocketing prices and power plans on the verge of shutdown. More generally, a faster recovery than expected from COVID-19 is causing energy shortages almost everywhere.
What can semiconductor manufacturers do about this?
Many of these raw materials are transformed to ultra-high purity specialty gases that are used to deposit materials during semiconductor manufacturing. If there was a way to reduce the usage of these gases, then the increased costs and potential gas shortages can be mitigated.
But how exactly do you use less? The simple answer is to run semiconductor processes more efficiently and that means with better control, which drives efficiency in gas consumption, increases throughput, reduces (toxic) waste and is environmentally more sustainable. A win on many fronts for Fab operators.
Aston from Atonarp is specifically designed to provide real-time in-situ actionable chemically specific data for process gases in semiconductor applications. This enables the manufacturing processes to run more efficiently, with less specialty gas required – helping counter the rise in consumable prices.